& the Birth of the Missouri State Guard
From Jefferson City, Missouri on June 12, 1861; Colonel Henry Little, Assistant Adjutant General under Major General Sterling Price issued General Orders No. 11 calling for the commanders within the military districts to immediately assemble all available troops for service. These troops were to march without delay to Booneville in Cooper County by company, regiment and battalion reporting into camp for organization and outfit.
The state of affairs had begun to unravel quickly in May under Brigadier General William S. Harney, when Camp Jackson had been captured and created overwhelming consternation among the citizenry. It became therefore the commander of the expedition who took overall command of the Department of the West on May 31, 1861 pursuant to Special Orders No. 135 of May 16th relieving Brigadier General Harney. Nearly overnight, Nathaniel Lyon had risen from the rank of captain, Second Infantry to Brigadier General commanding. The War Department's abrupt change of command caused great concern for Governor Claiborne F. Jackson as the state government began to view the act with hostility and prepared itself for the military might of the general government.
Not long after taking command however, Lyon had written to the Adjutant General's office in Washington City keeping them abreast of military intelligence received at his headquarters in Saint Louis. The regular Confederate army under Brigadier General Ben McCulloch had marched into the northwest corner of Arkansas, while a growing number of secessionists were noticed migrating into the southwest corner of Missouri. The two combined had a scant few miles and a state line between them. It became the department commander's assessment that the regular forces of the Confederacy were marching to come to Missouri's relief and action became imminently necessary.
The common practice was to render assistance to Missouri in the effort of ridding federal control over its boundaries. In the later part of June 1861, Sterling Price had marched 1,700 mounted men into the southwestern corner of his state in hopes of joining forces with Brigadier General William Slack along with Brigadier General James S. Rains of the Missouri State Guard.
While the Confederates concentrated in Northwest Arkansas, McCulloch crossed into Missouri to meet with Price and Governor Jackson to render whatever assistance was required. The military board of Arkansas had already issued orders for Brigadier General N. Bart Pearce to assist the regular army in its operations, while Colonel Dandridge McRae launched a military demonstration up the Telegraph Road, the main artery between Missouri and Arkansas, driving Brigadier General Franz Sigel's advance forces from reaching the rear of the Missouri State Guard.
General McCulloch sought after discipline in the Missouri troops if any success was going to come of the joint effort. The general officers under Price agreed to take their forces further into the corner of the state, drill and organize them into a more solid military outfit; likewise, the Confederate army prepared to meet the oncoming federals when news soon reached headquarters that Lyon had arrived in Springfield with a force of 10,000 men.
Having not the supplies and now performing operations in a section of the country which provided poor subsistence, Sterling Price had two options open to him; either to advance against the enemy or to disband his outfit. Feeding off the advice of McCulloch, moving out to engage was enthusiastically agreed upon. Price's forces now formed a junction with the regular Confederate forces under Ben McCulloch and a march on Springfield to defeat Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon became their cooperative objective.
Command problems arose almost immediately as the strong military characters between the state and regular force commanders began to clash. Since the State Guard had been so hard pressed to be outfitted and provisioned properly, those who had marched out unarmed were considered a military liability and the commanding general insisted they stay back in camp before an engagement was joined. Price had given his personal assent; however, in practicality those without weapons marched anyway. The Confederate Commander aired his disgust in the matter, and once again Price agreed to leave them where they were, but for General John B. Clark who insisted his men were not to be left behind.
For the simple sake of professionalism, McCulloch tried to appeal to Clark to set the example. His lack of supplies and subsistence would only hurt the effort and in the event of a panic the moral effect on his army would spell disaster to them all. Still, Clark was adamant and refused him. The only saving grace was a timely letter by Major General Leonidas Polk announcing a Confederate force of 12,000 under Brigadier General Gideon Pillow marching into Missouri. With an additional column within supporting distance, McCulloch elected to press on in spite of the misgivings the state troops represented.
In operating along side the regular forces of the Confederacy, communication became another factor in the break down of military cohesiveness. The intelligence gathering by members of the Missouri State Guard, by any stretch of the imagination, did not exist. Before any agreement could be reached on an adopted tactical plan of attack, the army commander felt more comfortable having known anything of the enemy he was about to confront. The knowledge of strength or position, perhaps even the topography in and about Springfield would have been too much to ask for. McCulloch refused to engage an enemy that he could gather no intelligence on. Ten miles outside of Springfield, Missouri his army sat and waited in vain another four days.
Taking on the mission of destroying the enemy threat on Missouri, the discipline of a regular soldier naturally would have worn thin in seeking the cooperation of a guard not yet educated in battlefield tactics. Now in the face of diversity, Brigadier General Ben McCulloch was confronted with two choices; to counter march his men into a disastrous retreat or to march them with faith into a blind assault. Committed to accomplish what he set out to do, marching orders were issued for 9:00 pm on the night of August 9, 1861. The Confederates would commit to offer battle to Nathaniel Lyon without further delay, at Springfield, Missouri along the banks of Wilson's Creek.
Editors Note: Mr.Moran is a feature writer on the US-Civilwar.com writers staff. He may be contacted with your questions, ideas and requests at firstname.lastname@example.org